Wednesday Serial: Farther Part CXII

Anie fire_handANIE

The birds started singing in the trees about the time that Anie had to start watching her feet while she walked. She lost her energy in the space of a yawn, and the growing light spreading through the sky on her right seemed wrong. She blinked heavily. Thea slowed, holding steadier, as Anie started to stumble. The others all pulled in a little closer, as if they might lean against each other.

The sun climbed heedlessly into the sky.

“When do we sleep?” Anie murmured.

“It’s not safe yet,” Chas said. But he was slowing too. The whole crowd ahead of them seemed to be stuttering in their steps. The trees were thinning, the ground evening out, but their feet seemed more and more hesitant to leave the ground.

And then, suddenly, that stutter turned into a halt. A whisper raced through the crowd, a hush like a gasp.

Then, someone screamed. One thin voice, and Anie brought her head up like it had been pulled on a string. She tightened her fingers in Thea’s hand. Others were shouting, and the sudden urgency crawled under her skin until she could feel her heart tapping against her ribs. She braced her feet, knees, legs, ready to sprint away again.

A thunder pounded into the ground after a moment, like a storm, sped up until it was unnatural. Ahead, the trees only dotted the roll of the hills, huddled together in twos and threes, and the rare, large bundles. It had been so long since Anie looked up, she was surprised. Beyond the thin trunks, it was hazy. A line of dust and dark shadows behind. Horses.

Darien held Mel steady. The woman who had caught Chas held out her hands, wide, to tell the others to hold. Few listened. The crowd tumbled back, and Anie pressed herself against Thea’s side to keep from getting separated from her. Mel appeared against her other side, and held her tight.

“Down!” the shout came through the commotion. “Every one down!” Anie searched the crowd, until she saw the man calling out, down on his knees in the dirt, catching the hands of the people around him to drag them down too. She dropped to her knees and tugged Thea down too, while the horses came close enough for them to hear the riders’ armor clanking.

One by one, the whole crowd came down, onto their knees, hands and knees, looking up with wide eyes, or heads down with hands over them. And Anie breathed deep, waiting for the thunder to stop.

The horses slowed. Whinnied and waffled around war gear. Tramped and wheeled, and riders relayed orders down the line.

At the front of the line, a woman sat a sleek, red horse. Her blonde hair was braided over one shoulder like another piece of her armor. Her knees were tucked behind metal plates. Her shoulders were squared, and the leather on the pommel of her sword had been worn smooth.

When she pulled her horse to a stop, she looked over the whole mass of them. Listened to someone behind her carefully. Then raised her voice. “If you’re armed, lay it down now!”

No one moved. There was nothing to lay down.

Anie steadied herself against Thea and watched the woman’s face.

“What are you doing here?” the woman demanded.

“We’re looking for Lord Tiernan,” the woman who stopped Chas said. “For safety!”

The woman on the horse paused, looking her over. She cocked her head back, listening to another rider who had just come in from the far end of the line. They exchanged a few words, quietly, and the red horse shuffled in the dirt.

“You all came from Madden’s fortress, at the mountain?” she called.

“From the encampments they built south of it,” a man replied. The same man who had told them to get on their knees. Beside Anie, Thea took a deep breath.

“How?” the woman on the horse demanded. “We fought for those encampments two days ago. They couldn’t be breached.”

The woman who had stopped Chas shrugged, not quite at a real loss. “Seryn Two-Hand decided to burn them down.”

The rider’s eyes narrowed. She exchanged one more short sentence with the men behind her. “My name is Deorsa. You will stay here, until I say so. Anyone who approaches the camp will be stopped, I promise you.”

Mel reached a hand around Anie’s shoulders, reached for Thea carefully. And slowly, she slipped off her knees and sat in the dirt. Mel wrapped her other arm around her knees and breathed deep. When she smiled at Anie, Anie just shook her head.

She twisted around to get more comfortable too, and rested her head against Thea’s arm. She should have closed her eyes and slept, but she watched the soldiers on the horses instead, while the crowd settled and resettled around her. As the dust cleared, Anie could look through the horses’ legs, and count the white tents spread behind them in their little rows.

It wasn’t long before two more riders came thundering up from the camp. One of them was broad, leather glistening richly in the sunlight. The other was lean tall and lean. Both shoulders on his jacket looked rough, like someone had ripped at them.

For the second time, Anie looked up sharply. It was Aled. She called for him before she realized she probably shouldn’t and Thea quickly cradled her head back against her. Deorsa had heard her, and was looking sharply in their direction. When Aled and the other man arrived beside her, she murmured something to him. Aled looked toward Anie immediately. Then he slid off his horse and came straight toward her.

Thea, Darien and Mel all looked at him warily as he crouched in front of Anie, but he was smiling as easily as ever.

“Anie,” he said happily. “Did you sprout wings? How did you get here?”

She almost grinned, because she was tired, and because he was hard not to grin at. “No,” she said. “Seryn came for us. She took us out through a window and we all climbed over the wall.”

His face twisted, just a little. Blinking, he cocked his head to one side. “Did she come with you?”

Anie shook her head.

Aled pulled back without standing, lifted his chin just enough to take a long look at the crowd over the girls’ heads. Behind him, the broad man was swinging down from his horse, and Doersa was handing her reins off to the man beside her. Aled twisted enough to see them both start toward him and looked back, his smile was a little dimmer. His eyes flicked to Thea’s hands wrapped around Anie, and then to Mel and Darien’s faces while they held his eyes fiercely.

“Who did come?” he asked. “Reese? Emyr?”

Anie shook her head again.

“We haven’t seen any of your guard,” Mel said. “Seryn came alone, and told us to get out of the camp, because she was going to burn it down.”

“What else did she tell you?” Aled asked.

“That she could bring Anie to us, if we would wait,” Thea said. She glanced up at the broad man as he came to a gentle stop near them. She looked at his face, then continued carefully. “That Lord Tiernan was close enough that we could catch up to him and we’d be safe with him.”

The man took a moment, and gave her a small nod.

“Why would she do that, Anie?” Aled asked. He held her eye and leaned in a little closer, until it seemed he had forgotten about the others. “Which of the others did she talk to?”

“Just me,” Anie said. She pulled back against Thea’s shoulder.

“And what did she tell you to do?” Aled asked.

“Climb out the window with her,” Anie said. “She said it would be the last hard thing she asked any of us to do.”

Aled blinked again, and for a moment Anie thought he was staring.

“There’s some trick here,” Deorsa murmured. She was taller than Anie had imagined, and she had to lean back to see her face, brow bent in, mouth a sharp question.

Aled looked at her out of the corner of his eye, then back to Anie. He gave her a wry, tilted smile.

“We’ll search them,” the broad man assured her quietly.

“Does it make sense to you?” Deorsa asked him.

The man considered the breadth of the crowd, and gave a small shake of his head. “Why would she just let these people go?”

It took Aled a moment to realize the question was aimed at him and he twisted to look up at them. Standing, he shoved his hands into his pockets. “She wouldn’t. Macsen owns her.” Then he shrugged. “So, either Macsen is pulling the trick. Or Seryn lost her mind.”

“What do you think we should do with them?” the man asked, in the same measured, even tone.

Aled shrugged. “What you planned to do with them, I suppose.”

“Just take them back to Oruasta?” Deorsa said. She shook her head at him. There was a small smile at the corner of her mouth. “Did Seryn send you?”

Aled just shook his head, returning the tight smile.

The broad man nodded down at the girls before he turned and took long, steady strides back to his horse. Deorsa and Aled followed wordlessly behind him, mounted up and followed him a little ways off.

“I think that was Lord Tiernan,” Thea whispered against Anie’s hair.

The soldiers left their horses in a line, a wall of mounts barring them from the camp, and slowly became combing through them. They asked each person for their name, where they came from, what family they brought with them. What family they had left behind, and scribes followed behind the soldier marking answers with short charcoal scratches. Anie tried to stay awake, but after the first hour, she shut her eyes.

She slept until Mel shook her awake. Thea was asleep too, and Mel woke her next. Their shadows were outrageously long, and the sun was barely showing over the edge of the mountains.

“They’re taking us to the camp,” Mel said. “They can’t find anything wrong with us.

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Gwendoogle – My Least Favorite is the Jive

GwendoogleAnswers served with a side of cotton candy

Kate Kearney searched: Thoughts on state fairs?
First of all, state fairs usually take place late in the summer, the time of year when all respectable Gwendolyn’s are hibernating in deep, cool holes to outlast the outrageous heat.

Second, they usually involve some sort of sunburn. It’s not actually a problem until twenty-four hours after the fair, when it’s hard to sleep because your skin is nearly neon, but scientists have assured me there’s a correlation.

Third, they have absolutely beautiful things in them. Paintings and photographs and baby sweaters that people near you have lovingly created. Pies that look too elaborate to eat, and too delicious to leave sitting on the table. Cotton candy whipped into tornadoes that small children can pull apart with their hands. Ferris wheels that spin slowly, and carousels that spin quickly.

It’s not hard to talk me into going.

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Legal Theft Flash Fiction: Lucky in His Hands (461 words)

The taproom tumbled into cheers as soon as the dice finished their manic skitter up to the back wall of the table and bounced backward. Two more sixes. Another untidy stack of silver coins in Declan’s pocket. The server – a stranger an hour before – gave him a fierce one-armed hug around the shoulders. Another dozen had slowly packed themselves around the table, goaded into watching by the absurdity of luck. They laughed with each other in shock and awe, grinned at him, shouted for him to roll again.

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Friday Serial: Farther Part CIX

Seryn fire_handSERYN

The fortress was awake as Seryn slipped back in through the open gate.

It was well after midnight, and the lamps were lit as soldiers crossed and recrossed the yard. The walls crawled with too many shadows, the watch doubled by men and women crowded shoulder to shoulder to oggle the mottled orange sky, the dim fire, and the sharp outline of the trees in front of it. A few of them glanced at Seryn, made a perfunctory check of her person, but didn’t seem to notice that she had come back twice. The yard rumbled with their curiosity. In one corner, someone was loading a wagon with water, the only bright point of hurry.

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Friday Serial: Farther Part CV

Seryn fire_handSERYN

Macsen found Seryn in the morning. The sun was barely up, and she hadn’t put her boots on yet, but he strode through the hall to put a firm hand on her shoulder.

“Come with me,” he said.

Ignoring the rest of the guard where they sat on the side of their cots, he turned on his heel to leave again.

Seryn followed him out, footsteps echoing dully in the wide space between the walls. There were few other people moving in the gray light – a few loading breakfast over already healthy fires, and a few more settling their clothes and minds for a new day – and she looked at none of them. Eyes on Macsen’s back she kept stride with him out into the yard, around the corner of the main hall, straight to his office.

He struck a match sharply and lit the lamp on the wall with steady hands. Seryn shut the door to keep out the morning chill. Macsen sat behind his desk and waved for her to take the chair across from him.

“How much did you know?” he asked before she could cross the room.

She took her next step more slowly, sank into the chair holding his eye carefully.

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Archaeology: DRAGANA

When I was ten, I wrote my first novel. This is not to be confused with my first story, which has already appeared in all its unicorn glory on this blog.

My first novel had a beginning, a middle, an end, magic, dragons, a revolution, and a group of children with superpowers who made a better army than the real army, and mystical beings in a valley who exist to scare people and give wars pretentious names. Do you hear the pride in my voice?

A piece of chapter 13 is reproduced here for four reasons:

  • giggles
  • names!
  • a firm guffaw at the fact that my friends used to call me the Queen of Dialogue
  • the heart-warming chance to say, “Look how far I’ve come!”

Chapter 13 – second half

“Say are you still interested in that underground fort?” Hubard asked finally.

(Authorial Commentary: This is the first time this fort is ever mentioned. And we’re one hundred pages in.)

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Legal Theft Flash Fiction: Familiar Heat (545 words)

Osanna watched the white-hot piece of steel skitter off the anvil and reached to catch it without thinking. Closing her fingers around it, she realized she had imagined this before, calculated what it would take to hold the heat-softened edges of the heavy brick in a midnight thought, half-asleep and forgetful of realities.

It was lighter than she had imagined. But she was used to carrying them at the end of long-armed tongs, not seated in the center of her palm.

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Flash Fiction: Night Owl (182 words)

It was nearly midnight before the musicians started laying down Lea’s favorite spell. The lamps had burned down to a flickering mimicry of yellow sunset, and the drums began to tap the air. They thudded and hummed, slow, steady, dragging out for a long moment while she began to grin and her heart seemed to steady itself against the beat. Then the guitars climbed on top, one high, one low, whirling like things freshly taught to fly, and she forgot how to keep her heels on the floor, or her hands at her sides, or her feet still.

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Wednesday Serial: Farther Part CII

Tiernan fire_handTIERNAN

Tiernan didn’t order the retreat until he had judged the perfect time. There was a tight balance, between when it became apparent that they had gained all they would from this fight, and when the soldiers still held the strength to perform maneuvers without desperation. And there had been so much desperation in the eyes of his soldiers when he began. Too early, and they would have hesitated, unwilling to give up on winning the day. Too late, and they would rush to obey, run and stumble. He waited until he saw the right moment, the catch of breath, the almost-fall and the last muster to press forward.

Deorsa would have called for it sooner. He knew it from the way she rallied her riders, ordered or them to sweep the field just a moment too late for them to hammer down the enemy with all the force they were capable of, like she had been ready to rally them for an entire different sweep. The one that would give the rest of the army the space to fall back. She shot him a look that was full of questions and demands across the battlefield.

But he waited.

Until he could see the men and women he had brought down into this valley slowly realize for themselves that this fight was not going to rescue the ones they had all left behind. He watched their shoulders slack, and then yanked them back, before that knowledge drove them beyond his reach.

He yanked himself back. Retreat now. Maintain the strength to try again. He moved them northeast, as quickly as he could.

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Legal Theft Flash Fiction: Considered (971 words)

Ryan and I had a pretty good childhood, all things considered.

We had mutually agreed a long time ago not to mention the hand-me-down fiascos. Not the embarrassments or the petty revenges we had dealt in with the knowledge that anything I talked Mom and Dad into buying for me would one day get passed down to him. There was a pink and blue and yellow tye-dye t-shirt that had gotten burned, though the only thing that was really odd about that was that it had happened on purpose.

We had mostly agreed not to tally up who gave who more scars too. I’d gifted him a chipped tooth. He’d thrown an elbow that put a permanent line through my right eyebrow. Neither of us was afraid to use the obvious – minor – injuries to win an argument from time to time. We never talked about the white line just beneath my ribs that once needed thirteen stitches to keep my insides where they belonged. We definitely never talked about the jagged thing on his calf where bone had torn skin. We’d both covered them with tattoos of things we wanted to remember more.

After a half-drunk midnight where we both broke down the fine points of all the ways our parents had wound us just too tight and broken us for better things, we agreed that there was no need to confess sins twice. Especially when they weren’t our own.

We had survived. To the brilliant ages of twenty-seven and twenty-four, even if there were days we felt ninety, and days we felt five. We had gotten our smiles and forged our precious silences.

Sitting across from him now, though, I knew he was going to break one of them.

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